Showing posts with label feet. Show all posts
Showing posts with label feet. Show all posts

Sunday, October 15, 2017

2017 Tesla Hertz 100 Miler

"The pessimist complains about the wind;
The optimist expects it to change;
And the realist adjusts the sails."
--William Arthur Ward
-Author's Note - February 13, 2018 - In the interest of  full disclosure I feel it is necessary to inform the reader that at the time this report was written I was not selected for nor even aware of Happily Running's Ambassador program. I was not confirmed as an ambassador for Happily Running until January of 2018. - 

I’ve heard that to find your limits you must be willing to fail. That was my goal with this race:  to find my limit by setting a goal that I felt was beyond my limits, but that may be possible on my best day with all else being perfect. With this thought in mind and this thinking, I looked at the Tesla Hertz trail series and the course record for the 100 mile distance, 19:22:08 set in 2014. Considering my previous performances at the 100 mile distance (two races:  TARC 100 and Eastern States 100) I decided that a sub 19 hour 100 miler and a new course record was a fitting goal. This wasn’t just shooting for a 100 mile pr for me, but improving it by over 3 hours. Looking at the difficulty of the previous 100 milers I had run this goal didn’t seem ridiculous to me, but still somewhat lofty and would require me to push myself to my limit or fail. At times during the race I thought I would reach it, but gradually it began to slip out of reach and ultimately I fell short and failed. However, with that failure I reached my overall goal of pushing myself to my limit and failing which was satisfying and confirmed that my goal was exactly where I had intended it to be:  achievable, but just slightly out of reach.

The Tesla Hertz Trail Series is a younger multi distance race with the first running of it in 2013. Managed by the Happily Running race company, the Tesla Hertz series offers 10 mile, 50k, 50 mile, 100k, and 100 mile distance options on a relatively flat trail loop of just over 10 miles. It takes place at the Rocky Point State Pine Barrens Preserve in Long Island, NY. The course is entirely single track trail with a short (about 1 mile) out and back to the mid loop aid station right around the halfway point of the course. The course has a few short hills, but is for the most part flat with somewhere around 240 feet of gain per 10 mile lap according to my Garmin data. The course isn’t technical. There are some roots and rocks as you would expect on a trail, but entirely runnable. However, the one aspect of technicality that this data doesn’t show is all of the twists and turns on the course. Very little of the course is a long, straight runnable stretch where you can just get into a rhythm and feel the flow of the trail. It is almost constantly twisting and forcing you to lean into turns to maintain a pace and stressing your hips.

Prior to registering, I had almost no intention of running another 100 miler in 2017 after Eastern States. I have to admit that one of the strongest motivators for me to register was the post race blues I faced after finishing Eastern States and the PA Triple Crown Series. That series had been a goal for me for nearly two years and as psyched as I was when it was achieved, I felt a bit empty and lost when it was over. I found myself browsing ultrasignup looking for nearby 100 milers to fill the void. Shooting for a PR at the distance and a course record at Tesla Hertz seemed to fill that void perfectly so I went for it.

Just before the 6 AM start. Photo Credit:  Vinny Cappadora (
Training for Tesla Hertz was much different than my lead up to my previous two 100 milers. The short time period (about 7 weeks) between Eastern States until Tesla Hertz just didn’t allow it. I had some recovery time after Eastern States before really hitting training hard again which only allowed for a few long training runs, the longest of which was 26 miles. I used a different approach and made my training sessions harder rather than focusing on time or distance hoping it would pay off. This new training approach made me a bit apprehensive leading up to Tesla Hertz, but I felt it was the best approach I could use with the time I was allowed. On top of this, about a week before the race I began feeling a bit of a cold coming on. I had some congestion, a drippy nose, and the fog that comes with a head cold. I almost, with the advice of my wife, decided to call it off and not even make this attempt that I had planned. However, about two days out and on the verge of canceling my hotel reservations, I realized I had missed the deadline to cancel the reservation without charges. I figured “what the hell, might as well show up and see what happens”. With that mindset, I made the drive with my family to the hotel in Long Island, NY and tried to prepare myself mentally for what laid ahead.  

Waking up for the morning of the race, I felt like I was over the worst of my cold. There was still some remnant congestion and headache, but I did my best to minimize my thinking of how it would impact my performance. I ate some leftover spaghetti and got prepped to run. After arriving at the race start I got my bib and schwag shirt then awaited the start. After a short pre race speech and an inspiring quote from the race director (Vinny Capp) we were off following the glow sticks that marked the start of the course. It was a small race with only about 25 runners starting the 100 miler and I found myself going out in front to meet the pace (about 11 minute miles) needed to meet my intended goal. A short time later, maybe after 2-3 miles, another runner flew up behind me and passed quickly. I guessed he was probably doing around 9 minute miles. I decided to pick up my pace a bit to see if I could at least keep his light in sight. I was doing around a 9:30 per mile pace and he was still pulling away. I wasn’t willing to push any harder so early in the race and risk destroying my race plan so I let the other runner pull out of sight. I saw him again when he was on his way back from the out and back and I was on my way out. At that point he was less than a half mile ahead of me so I figured I would aim to maintain the pace and see what happened over the next 9 laps. A distance of over 90 miles is more than I am willing to chase anyone or be chased by someone.

Here's the inspiring quote from the pre race speech.
Photo Credit:  Vinny Cappadora ( 
I hit the first aid station, refilled my water bottle, ate a gel and took one to eat on the trail. This was my nutrition plan for the early laps of the race:  a gel at each aid station and one between each aid station. This would give me 400 calories per lap in addition to whatever calories I was getting from the Skratch that was provided as the electrolyte hydration at the aid stations. This plan would give me over 200 calories an hour if I followed my intended pace for the race. It went well and I felt good for the first 3 laps and it showed in my pace which was way faster than I had intended. Then my stomach started to feel a bit queasy on me. I chalk this up to a few reasons. First, the day was getting warmer, unseasonably warm for October. Second, I was pushing a pace a bit faster than I had intended to hit my goal. I had finished my first 3 laps in under 5 hours, putting me on a pace to finish in under 17 hours. Additionally, this meant I was flooding my stomach with more sugar from the gels than I had intended. Third, I didn’t eat as much solid food before the race as I probably should have. And fourth, I still wasn’t at 100% after a week of battling a cold. All these factors probably contributed to the upset stomach I was experiencing so I did my best to adjust. I eased off the pace a bit and forced myself to eat the least sugary food available at the aid stations, potatoes.

The worst of my stomach issues was during the fourth lap. Additionally, it was also during this lap that the mental challenge of repeating a looped course started to bother me. By this point I had seen half the course in the dark and the entire course in the light twice. I tried to comfort myself by thinking about how the course will look slightly different as the light and shadows change throughout the day. Also, by thinking about how I would be able to focus on different aspects of the trail on the multiple loops. Neither of those two strategies worked well. The best strategy I found for me was to reward myself with something at every completion of a lap. Since the start/finish area also acted as the second aid station on the course, I had my drop bag there and some treats in it. During the third lap, I willed myself on by thinking about how great it was going to be to kick my shirt off at the aid station and run through the rest of the heat of the day shirtless. During the fourth lap it was drinking a bottle of vanilla iced coffee out of the cooler I had next to my drop bag. Then I gave myself a bonus treat by dipping my hat in the icy cooler water before heading back out. My proverbial carrot on the string for the fifth lap was an ice cold V-8 fruit juice energy drink and another dip of my hat in the cooler. The incentive I used to push myself during the sixth lap I had planned before the race, before I even knew I would be using this quid pro quo mental strategy to get over the challenge of the looped course. This piece of encouragement was exchanging my hydration belt for my hydration vest, which had my mp3 player in one of its pockets.

So refreshing after 40 Miles of trail running! Plus caffeine to keep you alert through the night! 
This would be my first time running with music during a race. For a period of about 3-4 months I ran with music during training runs pretty frequently. This was after being an avid runner for about five years who never ran wearing headphones. I liked certain aspects of it:  the distraction and entertainment, the way it influenced my mood, and especially the way it felt like if the right song came on I would get an immediate boost of energy. However, it had its downsides as well. One being the distraction it provided. When I run I like to think that I become more aware of my surroundings and more aware of myself, mind and body. The music seemed to distract me from the world around me as well as my introspective thoughts. Also, probably my most favorite aspect of running is the simplicity of it. Running with music required me to make sure my mp3 player was charged prior to running, either carry the mp3 player or wear some type of carrier, adjust the headphone cables, skip a track if I wasn’t in the mood for it when it came on, and sometimes adjust the volume during the run. It got to the point where it felt like it was more of a nuisance than a benefit. So now, it is a very rare occasion that I will run with music. Even with all those downsides I listed, I was excited to run with some music during this race because I had never raced with music before. Also, I was interested to see if the music that seemed to give me such a boost during shorter runs would have the same effect when I’m exhausted and 70 some miles into a 100 miler. Not to mention, I had invested a lot of time into putting together what I felt was a pretty kick ass running playlist. (
With my vest on stocked with music, I waited until I had passed the aid station and halfway point of my seventh lap before putting my earbuds in and starting the seven hour playlist. The music definitely did make an impact. The Hatebreed songs and Mudvayne’s “Determined” motivated me to push my already tired legs beyond the exhaustion and pain that comes with 70 some some miles of flat and curvy trails. I got emotional and thought about my family and my wife and how integral she was in allowing me to run this race when Chicago’s “You’re The Inspiration” played. It lifted my spirits at times and I found myself running through the woods in the dark laughing and singing along to Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”. I did the best club dancing I could do while trail running in the dark when the Marshmello songs were playing. However my favorite and what I found most motivating to run with were the Eminem tracks. Running with music felt like a huge plus for me during this race. I think they made the last 3.5 laps far more enjoyable than they would have been otherwise.

With seven laps complete, I was just under 13 hours into the race putting me right at target pace for a 19 hour finish if I could just maintain a pace of two hours per lap for the last three laps. However, by this point hitting that 11 minute per mile pace was a struggle. I had started mixing in some walking intervals to lessen the pain resulting from the constant impact of running on flat terrain. My body wasn’t prepared to deal with that kind of pain following Eastern States where so much of the course is spent climbing which is physically draining as well, but is nowhere near the same effect as the constant impact of the repeated footfalls of running a flat course. With this run/walk strategy, sub 12 minute miles felt like success. I wasn’t willing and probably wasn’t capable of it at the time to do the math to determine if this pace would be enough to get me to the finish within that 19 hour mark. I continued this strategy until near the end of my eighth lap when I caught up to a runner with a set of flashlights that looked familiar. The only runner that had passed me all day was the other 100 mile runner who passed me during that first lap. He also had been using what appeared to be a pair of flashlights. According to my exhausted brain, this had to be that same runner which would mean that I had finally caught up to him and was about to be in first place. I passed him and decided I would push myself without any walking intervals the remainder of the lap to the start/finish aid station to create a gap between us. I rushed through the aid station constantly looking back at the trail for any lights. I figured if I got out of the aid station before he got there it would lessen his will to chase after me. I continued to push for the ninth lap with my goal being to get through the out and back without him seeing me. I pulled this off and thought to myself that I now had at least about a mile gap on him. When he got there and realized the gap between us he certainly wouldn’t want to chase me for the last 15 miles.

The finish line after dark.
Photo Credit:  Vinny Cappadora ( 
Even with what felt like pushing myself to the limit while running scared my eighth and ninth laps were both still about 2 hours and 10 minutes each which put me just a little over my 19 hour finish goal. I had told myself that I would push for the last lap if I needed to meet that goal, but the increased effort during the last two laps had taken a lot out of me. I tried but just didn’t have what it took to increase my pace for the last lap. At the final aid station during that last lap I knew my 19 hour goal was beyond reach. I rewarded myself for my effort and prematurely celebrated a bit by doing what I had been tempted to do upon every passing of this aid station that is named the “Whiskey Girl” aid station and took a shot with the lone remaining volunteer. The green label Evan Williams was delicious and went down surprisingly smooth after what I had put my stomach through for the last 18 hours. After the shot and a fist bump I was off to wrap up the last five miles til the finish. My legs were a bit wobbly before it, but the shot made the wobbles feel more fluid and numbed the pain a bit. I happily continued on until about three miles from the finish when I caught sight of a light in the distance behind me. I panicked. “He caught me” my mind screamed. I pushed hard trying to not let the light get closer, but every time I let up the light appeared again. This continued until I crossed the finish line physically and mentally drained with an official finishing time of 19:41:33.

Some pretty sweet schwag!
Photo Credit:  Nichole Cappadora ( 
It wasn’t until after having a seat and chatting with the race director a bit that I realized the runner I had been chasing and running scared from for the last three laps was a ghost. The first place finisher had finished an hour ahead of me. That runner I had passed with the same lights as the runner that had passed me so long ago was either running a different distance race or was a 100 mile runner that I was lapping. Either way, it had no effect on where I placed at the finish. Regardless, it was great motivation for me to push myself for those last three laps. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t disappoint me, even if winning the race wasn’t my goal. The beauty of it is that it helped me to achieve my primary goals. It forced me to push myself when I thought I had nothing left. The lofty goal that I had set was beyond my reach, but I never gave up and gave it my all to grasp it even as it slipped out of reach during those last thirty miles. The Tesla Hertz 100 cured my post race blues and helped me prove to myself what I am currently capable of at the 100 mile distance.

Scott Snell
October 13, 2017

Saturday, November 12, 2016

2016 Batona 50 Race Report

The Batona 50 is point to point race with 53.4 mile and 50k options. The course follows the path of The Batona Trail. The trail derives its name similar to but not exactly in the format of an acronym: BAck TO NAture. It makes its way through the NJ Pinelands National Reserve from the north end at Ong’s Hat in Brendan T. Byrne State forest to the southern end at Lake Absegami in Bass River State Forest. Along the way it takes you on a tour through the heart of Wharton State Forest passing Batsto Village and numerous campgrounds.The trail is pretty typical of South Jersey trails in that it is a reflection of the common sandy soils of the coastal plains, resulting in high sand content and sandy trails. The second common feature of trails in Southern NJ and the landscape in general is a lack of elevation change. The Batona Trail shares the nearly total absence of climbs and descents with the rest of the landscape in the region with only 530’ of elevation gain recorded by my Garmin for the entirety of the trail. 
Elevation Profile
The Batona 50 event is organized as a “fat ass” event. Typically, “fat ass” events have no frills, no fee, no aid, no schwag, and no course markings; making them more or less a large group run. However, the organizers of the Batona 50 have gone beyond what I would consider to be the standard definition of a “fat ass” event. While there are no course markings, the trail is pretty well marked already by trail blazes so there really isn’t any need for additional markings. As for frills, there was no schwag for registering or finishers’ medals, but they did offer the option to purchase a
pretty nice looking long sleeve shirt. There was no registration fee, but the organizers did ask that in lieu of the fee that participants consider donating to the Pinelands Preservation Alliance or NJ Conservation Foundation. It was in the aid department where the event really went beyond my expectations from a “fat ass” event. The course had six planned aid stations along the 50+ mile distance, four of which doubled as aid for the 50k distance. A surprise aid station popped up during the event for the 50+ mile distance between aid stations on the second half of the course where they were about 10 miles apart. All of the aid stations were stocked with standard fuel and hydration donated by the runners and the amazing group of volunteers manning them. And heck, they even offered the option of transporting a drop bag to any of the aid stations for you!

This was my last ultra for the year and with it taking place only four weeks after finishing my first 100 miler, I was really questioning how hard I wanted to push myself while running it. I didn’t train much between the two events. I did some easy medium to short recovery runs following the 100 miler, one long (25 mile) training run, and some mid to short runs during a taper leading up to the 50 miler. In total, I ran about 75 miles in the four weeks between the two races. I was really banking on the fitness and endurance from the 100 mile training to carry over and get me through the race, which is a strategy I have never used and did not trust. Additionally, I was trying to comfort myself with the fact that the course was super flat and therefore the 50 miles would seem “easy”. All the while I knew that while one 50 miler may be “easy” relative to another 50 miler, running 50 miles is never “easy” and I knew that at some point during the run I would most likely be hurting and in pain. With these trepidations leading up to the event, I was telling myself that my plan was to go out at comfortable pace and maintain that for the entirety of the run. I stuck to that plan up until the race started.

I stood in the crowd while the race director made some brief announcements. Then with the start of the race imminent, a strange thing happened. All of the other runners towards the front of the crowd started shuffling backwards in small, barely noticeable increments. Without moving, myself and about four other runners were all at the front of the starting line and with that the race began. Three of the other runners that took off first had actually intended to be there. The one immediately in front of me, however, had apparently ended up there inadvertently due to the pre start backwards shuffle and hopped off to the side of the trail to let me pass after maybe 100 yards from the start.

The start of the race was 7 AM so the sun was just starting to rise and it was still a little tough to see the trail and blazes without a headlamp. My plan, or lack thereof, was to run with someone else with a headlamp for the first half hour or so until the headlamp would be completely unnecessary. I was going out at what felt like a pretty comfortable pace for me, but no headlamps were nearby behind me and one was not too far ahead. I figured I’d pick up my pace a bit to catch the pair of runners, one of whom had a headlamp, in front of me. I told myself that even though it was a little faster (around 8:30 miles) than I had intended to go out, it would be less than a half hour until it would be light enough that I would be completely comfortable running without any lighting.

After just a few miles with the two runners, it was daylight and one other runner that had sped up from the starting pack had joined up with us. With a little conversation between the four of us the miles started to click off and we were at the first aid station. We all passed through quickly (less than a minute) and continued on. And just like that, I scrapped my whole plan of taking it easy and decided to see if I could keep pace with these guys who were the lead pack with the exception of the front runner who was running a blazing pace and set a new course record of 7:11:00. As much as I had told myself that this is my last ultra for the year, I haven’t trained enough or recovered long enough from the 100 miler, and I should take it easy and just focus on finishing and enjoying it, I couldn’t convince myself to execute that plan. For me anyway, the attraction of ultras is to truly test yourself and find out what you are capable of. The way I see it, if you aren’t pushing yourself, you won’t find out.

One of the stretches of narrow boards.
Even though I was pushing harder than I had intended and in a bit of pain, I was still enjoying the run. The first couple hours were a bit chilly, mid 30s, but once it warmed up a bit it was perfect running weather. It may have been a bit past the time for peak fall colors as the sassafras and the sweetgum trees had nearly dropped all of their leaves, but many of the oaks still displayed the majority of their leaves ranging from green tinted with yellows to brilliant reds and earthy browns. Though the most stunning colors belonged to the blueberry shrubs that dominate much of the understory of the Pinelands. Running through the seemingly endless sea of fiery red was a reward in itself. Nearly every footfall was cushioned by a bed of oak leaves and pitch pine needles along the sandy trail. While much of the scenery along the Batona trail is consistent, it does offer some variety passing by several lakes and long abandoned cranberry bogs. Additionally, for some stretches it follows forest streams and passes through several low lying swampy areas where the trail weaves its way between the thick stands of Atlantic white cedars on treacherous looking narrow boards.

Between enjoying the scenery and the off and on conversations within our pack, we were a little over
Fall colors.
20 miles into the run before I even realized it or thought about changing my pace. It was around this point that one runner from our group picked up his pace and for the next few miles I could just barely catch a glimpse of his orange jacket in the distance every few minutes. Not long after that another from our pack picked up his pace as well and the one runner remaining with me slowed his pace. I ran alone for a good stretch of the trail after that and maintained just a slightly slower pace (just under 9 minute miles) than I had when running with the group until I started feeling some rumbling in my bowels. After assessing the situation for awhile, it became clear that I was going to have to resolve the issue soon. I didn’t want to waste much time by going too far off trail, but I also did not want to perform a public demonstration of how to wipe your ass with leaf litter and pine needles. My main worry was that I had no clue how far back the next runner was. I waited until the next side trail crossed the course and went just a little way down that trail and hopped off the trail behind some shrubs thinking “this side trail won’t have any traffic”. Well, one of the pre race announcements was to be very mindful and on the lookout for trail blazes because there are many cross trails and fire roads making it easy to go off course without realizing it. I had noticed this during the race as well as how often times along the trail there are braided sections that separate then quickly rejoin to a single trail. It turned out that this “cross trail” that I hopped off of was actually just a braided section of the Batona trail. I realized this shortly after taking care of business and going just a few paces down the trail to find the paths reconnected. Thankfully, there was enough of a gap between me and the next runner that my privacy was not disturbed.

With that catastrophe avoided, I continued on in good spirits. Soon after, I passed the 50k mark and checked my watch to realize I had just run my fastest 50k, bettering it by about 13 minutes. Even though my previous 50k best was on a tougher course (Blues Cruise) with far more elevation change, it was still a bit of a boost for my morale and encouraged me to continue to push as best I could for the remaining 20 miles or so. I was feeling a bit tired by this point so it really did help me out mentally. Although I was telling myself that I didn’t have a target time for this race, I was really hoping to keep it under a 10 minute per mile average. With that pace, I would improve my 50 mile time. I pushed on sustaining around a 9:30 per mile pace until around mile 40 when I caught sight of one of the two runners I had been with earlier that had picked up his pace. It was his first race greater than a 50k distance and it looked like the miles were beginning to take a toll on him. We rolled into the final aid station at about the 43 mile mark together.

I was feeling pretty tired by this point, but the excitement of running a faster time than I had hoped for and knowing that I could be at the finish within a couple hours had me pumped and ready to push on and wrap this thing up. After refilling my bottle and downing some bacon, a banana, and some coke I was ready to move out. I looked over at my running mate to realize that he did not look as excited or as pumped as I was to finish this run. A chair was set up just a few steps from the aid station table and one of the volunteers pointed it out and mentioned it to the guy I had been running with. I felt it was my duty at this point to tell him not to even think about sitting down. I told him to not even look at that chair, it’s only another ten miles until you’ll be back at your car and can sit down there. With that we headed out from the aid station and pushed on.

The next few miles passed quickly with the company and the boost of the caffeine and sugar from the coke. Then we found ourselves on a fire road and there was no sign of the familiar pink blazes we had been following on the trail all day. We turned back following the road until we found a faint pink blaze. Thinking that this confirmed we were still on the trail, we doubled back and continued on the road until it came out to a larger road crossing we had already crossed from the opposite direction not too long before the blazes had quit appearing. We saw the trail nearby where we had
crossed earlier and knew for certain that we had made a wrong turn. We got back on the trail, running a section we had already run, a little frustrated that we had probably just added about an extra one mile loop to the final stretch of the course. We got back to the point where we made the wrong turn and I immediately realized how we had both messed it up. What looked like an arrow pointing left where the trail met the fire road was actually an arrow directing hikers from the opposite direction onto the trail we had just come from. If either of us had looked to the right at that point we would have seen that the trail was clearly blazed in that direction. Clearly both of us were feeling the effects of the miles that we had logged already. Thankfully, that was the only wrong turn we made.

We continued on together until about 5 miles from the finish when my trail companion decided to slow down to take a gel and walk for a bit. I think his stomach was bothering him a bit as he had mentioned that he hoped the coke would help settle it shortly after leaving the last aid station. I’m guessing that he wanted to let the gel settle a little before continuing with the gyrations from the pounding of running. He told me not to wait for him, but I felt kinda bad about continuing on ahead of him so close to the finish when we had run the better part of the entire trail together. However, at that point I could practically smell the finish and was running out of motivation. I just wanted to be done as soon as possible. I just gave him a nod and continued on. My brain was feeling kinda fried at the time and in my mind it was a very encouraging nod that said “Stay strong, keep up the pace and finish strong!”. Looking back, I doubt it conveyed that entire message to him.
Lake Absegami at the south end of the trail.
For the last few miles I tried to run the tank dry, but there wasn’t a whole lot left. I was digging deep in an attempt to eek out one more sub 9 mile, but the closest I could get was a 9:15. I crossed the finish with a time of 8:40:45 which I was pretty impressed by since my time goal that I was saying I
didn’t have was 10 hours. I am so thankful that I fell in with the group that I did from the start or else I don’t think I would have pushed myself to the same degree. To me, that really sums up what these ultra events are all about:  the eloquent intermixing of camaraderie and competition that drives everyone to be the best version of themselves.

Scott Snell
November 10, 2016

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

2016 TARC 100 Race Report

TARC 100 Race Report

How I Broke Two Ultrarunning Commandments and Succeeded

First lap and feeling fine!

The TARC (Trail Animals Running Club) 100 is a hundred mile race which takes place in Westwood, MA, about a 20 minute drive from downtown Boston. In fact, the Boston skyline is visible, weather permitting, from one point on the course. The 2016 running of the TARC 100 was the fourth running of the event and will unfortunately be the final running of it for the foreseeable future due to a number of reasons. From the few TARC members I heard from about putting the TARC 100 on hold, the main reason that seemed to be repeated was that a TARC member had past and the club felt stretched thin between TARC 100 and all the other races they put on. With it possibly being the final running of a race being put on by a club that already felt stretched thin, one might expect a subpar performance for overall race event coordination. The TARC 100 race director, Josh Katzman, and the TARC crew had quite the contrary in mind with an amazingly well organized event that was run smoothly and exceeded all expectations.

The course was amazingly well marked with flagging and signs both with reflective tape so they were easy to see when a headlamp was needed; it would have been difficult to get lost or go off course unless you were in a seriously foggy state of mind (or you head out fast and miss the first turn, that will be explained later). All aid stations were well stocked with everything you would expect and manned by super helpful and friendly volunteers. Additionally, the course route and the spacing of the aid stations was proof that a significant amount of time and effort was put into getting them right. The course is a 25 mile loop of primarily single track trail. There is one short section, probably less than a couple hundred feet, of the course where there is two way traffic. Other than that, there is no repeated trail during each loop. I’d estimate that the course is easily over 90% trail with the remainder being made up of short stretches along gravel and a few paved roads. It was somewhat technical, some sections more so than others, with a decent amount of exposed roots and rocky sections. There is also a fair amount of elevation change with about 2,500 feet of gain during each lap for a total of 10,000 feet of elevation gain. Not a crazy amount of gain, but definitely not flat either.

Lacing up my Altra Lone Peaks
 for the start!
I registered for this 100 miler more or less to overcome my fear of the 100 mile distance. My goal for 2017 is to complete the PA Triple Crown Series:  Hyner 50k, World's End 100k, and Eastern States 100 miler. Up until finishing the TARC 100 I felt confident about everything in the Triple Crown Series other than the 100 miler. Wrapping my head around covering 100 miles was something I was struggling with so I figured if I want to have any confidence next year in finishing the series, what better way than to just get a hundred miler out of the way this year and prove to myself that it is a doable distance. So, with having done a 40 and two 50 milers already this year, I registered for the TARC 100 about a month before the race. I basically viewed all of my training runs and the 50 milers as training runs building up to the 100 miler.

With it being my first shot at a 100 miler and not being familiar with the course, it was tough to decide what an achievable yet challenging goal would be other than just finishing. I figured 24 hours is kinda the standard time goal for a 100 miler that isn’t ridiculously technical or that has some other feature that would really cost you time, so that became my A goal with finishing before the 32 hour cutoff being my B goal. After my final long training runs of back to back 30 and 20 milers, I was feeling extremely confident going into my three week taper. I even feared that I was dangerously overconfident and I was going into this with way too much optimism and that quite everything I hoped this journey to be could very well come crashing down and destroy me around 70 miles in. Thankfully, that bout of overconfidence passed a few days before the race and I was filled with a more extreme version of the nervous excitement that I am accustomed to before a race.

My basic race strategy went against several of the ultrarunning commandments I have heard stressed time after time on podcasts and in race reports:  don’t go out too fast and don’t try anything on race day that you haven’t practiced on your long runs. I broke both of these to a certain degree. I planned on running the first half faster than the second half for two reasons:  I’d have fresh legs and wouldn’t feel as tired during the first 50 (novicely planning on banking time for the second half) and that I had not done much trail running after dark so I thought even if I am still feeling strong after dark, my pace was still going to suffer due to my inexperience of running trails with a headlamp (breaking two commandments in your overall race strategy, maybe not a good idea for your first 100?).  I further broke the “do nothing you haven’t practiced on long runs” commandment with nutrition/hydration. I had used and was comfortable with everything offered at the aid stations, but decided to bring a couple untested items that I’ve heard raved about on a few occasions. Those items being coconut water and Starbucks frappuccinos, neither of which really caused any problems.

Towards the end of loop #1.
The first 25 mile loop went well and was for the most part uneventful. I started middle of the pack and followed the people in front of me. Probably less than 50 yards from the start, I hear from right behind me, “you’re going the wrong way!”. It turned out the leaders missed an early turn, possibly the first one, before even getting on the trail. Thankfully it was a mistake caught early, but it made for a lot of passing early on as the lead pack attempted to get back to the lead. Other than this, the first lap was smooth and right on my target pace (12 to 14 minute miles). I was eating and drinking at every aid station as planned and was back to the start/finish area in about five hours.

The second loop deviated a little from my plan, mainly because of some chatting I did with another runner. Not that I didn’t talk with anyone during the first loop, but shortly after meeting this runner, Dima was his name, and chatting with him a bit, I found out there were only about five or six runners in front of us. I had no idea until this point how far I had moved up with respect to placement. I had no place goals going into the race, only the 24 hour finish goal which I thought would likely put me into the top 10 if it worked out. Finding out this early on I was already in the top 10 was really unexpected. I also learned that Dima had finished about 13 or so 100 milers and a few 200 milers. With this conversation, I began to think that my newbie overconfidence of the 100 mile distance might wreck my second half. Dima was way more experienced than me and good company so I decided to match his pace for a while. After about 10 miles of running together we were probably still averaging around 14 or 15 minute miles, but I found myself getting angry and frustrated that I wasn’t banking the time in daylight like I had during my first loop. I decided that whether my legs blew up or not due to my plan, I did not want to run angry or frustrated and parted ways with Dima as I picked up my pace to the higher but comfortable effort level I had maintained earlier. I finished the second loop at about the 10.5 hour mark, just a few hours before dark as planned.

Going into my third loop and the unchartered distance of over 50 miles I still felt good and my legs felt like I could push them if needed. I believe I was in fifth place at this time as I passed another runner shortly after parting with Dima. I wanted to maintain the pace from my first 50 miles until the sunset during my third lap. I was able to do this for what seemed much less painful than I had expected until the 10 mile aid station. At that aid station my wife was going to join me to pace me for the remainder of the loop. It was really last minute plans as my wife wasn’t even planning on coming with me to the race until maybe a couple weeks before it. I really had been planning on going solo and not using a pacer, but it was tough to turn down the offer after she had arranged to be there to support me. So after a short stop at the aid station we headed out with our headlamps on as it had quickly gone from sunset to darkness. Surprisingly for both of us, my pace did not slow down a great deal running in the dark. It changed so little that my wife had problems keeping up which was a bit frustrating for me. I’m not saying this to take anything away from my wife or to brag, because she is a good runner, but she is a very apprehensive trail runner even in the daylight. I think the mediocre at best headlamp and technical terrain were the two things really slowing her down. Anyhow, after a couple miles she yelled to me to just go on without her. It was kinda bittersweet as I wanted to run with her, but I didn’t want to have to sacrifice my pace for it. I came into the next aid station (around mile 15 on the loop) at the same time as another runner. I was pretty surprised when the aid station captain announced that we were the third and fourth place runners. I had passed other runners since the last aid station, but I had assumed they were all 100k distance runners. I passed through quickly and continued on feeling good physically for the remainder of the loop. Mentally, however, I was a little worried about both the pressure of knowing the fourth place runner was right behind me and the fact that I had left my wife a few miles back. Maybe it was that or maybe it was just the adrenaline I had flowing that helped me maintain my pace until the finish of the loop when I was able to see her again at the start/finish area and know that she had made it back safe. It turned out she was able to catch a ride back from the next aid station, just a couple miles from where I had left her. That was a bit of relief and peace for me before heading out for my final lap.

I started the final lap with the goal of doing everything I could to maintain my pace until the finish. I left the start/finish area the final time at about the 16 hour mark giving me ample time to meet my 24 hour goal. Although I hadn't gone into the race with any goals of placing, after being in third for about ten miles hanging on to that position had become a goal. Physically I was still comfortable, but mentally I was worrying about other runners who may have been waiting until the final lap to really push. I went through about 13 miles of the loop with nothing but those thoughts circling through my head (other than singing the Finding Dory song that I hear my son sing sometimes to myself, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming”, only I change the “swimming” to “running”). About that time I passed a couple of 100k runners who informed that second place was just a few minutes ahead of me. Over the next two miles to the next aid station I passed about three runners. I wasn’t sure if any of them were the second place 100 mile runner until I reached the aid station to find out I was in second place. It was at that point that for the first time during the race I asked how much farther I had to go until the finish. My gps had been getting farther and farther off
After a nap and a change of clothes.
with every loop, my thinking was a little scattered by this point, and although I had an approximate idea of the spacing, I never knew the exact distances of the aid stations throughout the course. Maybe it was the mental game of knowing how close to the finish I was, but shortly after leaving the aid station I began feeling more pain than I had all day. Primarily in the lower shins just above the ankles which took me by surprise because I normally never have pain in that area and have only had shin splints once before nearly 10 years ago. I figured that a bit of pain during the last 10 miles of a 100 miler is probably pretty normal, so I accepted it and continued on as best I could. I made my final pass through the final aid station and pushed myself through the final tough stretch of the loop that the TARC crew lovingly refer to as “The Grinder”. I guess it gets this name due to how technical it is with lots of exposed rock (which had become pretty slick from the drizzle that had started in the last few hours) and how windy the trail feels through that section. It was just very difficult to maintain any pace or feel any flow when constantly rock hopping and turning. It was pretty amazing how much more difficult it had become the fourth time through compared to the first time when my fresh legs told me it was nearly all runnable. I was grateful to get through without eating it and push with anything I had left for the last mile or so of the course which was pretty easy terrain. When I saw the Christmas lights of the finish area it was a beautiful sight. The only thing that topped it was seeing my 22:02:00 finishing time and being handed a shiny buckle shortly after.

All things considered, I couldn’t have been happier with the outcome. I proved to myself that the 100 miler is achievable. I had a plan (even if it did go against some fundamentals) and for the most part stuck to it. My goal was to get it in under 24 hours or blow up trying to. My inspiration for the all or nothing mindset of that goal really came from watching irunfar’s post UTMB interview of Zach Miller multiple times. The passion, perseverance, desire, disappointment, and heartache was all on full display during that interview. As inspired as I was by that interview, it also haunted me for the last lap. During the interview Zach talks about how things had gone so well for so long until he started bonking with somewhere around 15-20 miles to go. As I was approaching the 80, 85, and 90 mile marks I was almost waiting for things to fall apart. Thankfully, they never really did and the wheels never really came off.

The Buckle!

Scott Snell
October 19, 2016